Ah yes, another year has come and gone. Let’s take a look at my annual top pictures from 2016! I typically do top a 10, but this year I’m expanding it to 12; there is just too much good stuff not to share it.
Once again I wish to say a heartfelt Thank You to all who chose me to have your back during the stress of buying a house. It’s a responsibility and an honor that I do not take lightly, and I can’t thank you enough. To those of you who didn’t choose me….shame on you. Really, shame on you.
Happy New Year! Here’s to making 2017 the best yet!
If you missed my Best of 2015, click the button and check it out now.
It’s all the rage these days; fake stone siding (manufactured stone) as an accent on the front of a house. You can give your home that mountain cabin look, right here in suburbia. Manufactured Stone Siding (or Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer as it’s technically known) is a thin, man-made siding made to look like natural stones or rocks. It’s basically molded concrete that looks like real rocks. It’s normally installed over wood framing, but when installed incorrectly, it will let water in next to your wood framing, trap it, and wreak havoc on the structure of the house. And so far, I’ve yet to see an install done correctly in Louisville.
A couple of years ago I was called in by a homeowner to look at his 2 year old custom built house. His wife had tried to hang curtain rods on the front wall and his drywall was too wet and mushy to hold a plastic wall anchor. They had no clue why things were so wet. I was able to trace it down to the manufactured stone siding on the front of the house. The builder had omitted all the important details with the install. That day was began a fight with his builder that would last 2 years. For that entire period, his dining room was blocked off and unusable. The result: Attorneys were hired and things got ugly. The builder eventually repaired all of the water damage, stripped all the ACMV off, and replaced it with real stone (they did not try to install ACMV again). The final repair cost was close to $80,000.00.
Moisture intrusion experts have made the connection between manufactured stone veneer and traditional stucco (stucco homes in Louisville, KY are very rare to find). When problems arise from a botched install, a house with manufactured stone veneer shows the same moisture related issues as a house with a botched stucco system. It leaks behind the cladding and the water gets trapped. Then the house rots. In fact, one of the brightest minds in the world of building science, Dr. Joseph Lstiburek refers to manufactured stone veneer as “lumpy stucco.” He has a great article about that here: Stucco Woes.
Most manufacturers of ACMV are members of the Masonry Veneer Manufacturers Association or MVMA, who are now under the NCMA (National Concrete Masonry Association). I know, enough with the acronyms already. The MVMA puts out a installation guide (download the guide here) that is considered the “end-all-be-all” of how-to installation guides when it comes to manufactured stone siding. When I am inspecting homes in Louisville KY, I refer to that guide and its details to show my buyers how things should be done. The problem is I have never seen a home that has manufactured stone installed as the guide says it should be. Most every detail is usually skipped, and we all know that when it comes to a home…
The Devil is in the Details
When big problems pop up with a house, you can usually trace its origins to a bunch of small things that add up to the train wreck at hand. That seems to be the reoccurring theme with the ACMV installs I am seeing. The most frustrating part for me as a home inspector is that by the time I get to see the house, most of the critical steps that must be done are covered up by multiple layers, and I’m left only to guess at what is (or isn’t) underneath the surface. But if the install crew can’t get the small, simple things correct, how could I expect them to actually do the really important stuff under it all.
Anyone who’s ever spent any time on a job site knows the attitude of most construction workers today. In the many years I worked in the trades, one of the more popular things to hear was “Looks good from my house,” or “We ain’t building a piano.” That’s a creative way of saying they don’t care. They do not care if you have problems later on. If it’s good enough to get things cleared, and them paid, let it roll.
A wise man once told me that water and women can be lumped into the same category: They both always win. Never is that more true than when it comes to the ACMV installation on your home. Water will find a way in. I repeat, water will find a way. It will seep in around the cracks, and it will be absorbed into the chunks on concrete. You didn’t think this stuff was waterproof did you? It’s colored concrete. It absorbs the rain water, the sprinkler water, melting snow, etc. What we must do as construction professionals is design and build a wall system that can control the water, and not let it reach the structural framing of the house. The moisture will get past the concrete veneer; it’s what happens next that is vital to the integrity of your house. Every type of siding (or cladding, if you will) needs to be able to drain the moisture that gets by it.
Take brick veneer for example. Building codes have required a 1″ gap (brick manufacturers recommend a 2″ gap, by the way) between the sheathing on a house and the back side of the brick. When the water gets absorbed by the brick (No, brick veneer is not waterproof either), that gap is there to make sure we don’t soak wood framing, and gives that moisture a path to escape at the base of the wall via weep holes. Take a look at the detail below of a brick wall and you’ll see the drainage plane present. The air gap is the glowing red area. This allows the moisture a path to escape.
ACMV (manufactured stone veneer) is typically installed on top of the wood sheathing on a house, and doesn’t have an air gap since it’s “stuck/mounted” to the framing, and not resting on the wall foundation in front of it (like brick veneer). If you want a trouble-free install, you must create a drain path for moisture to drain and a place for it to escape at the base of the wall/window/door/etc. If you do not have an escape point, the moisture will simply build up and rot out the base of the structure. I’ve never seen a home with a weep screed (escape point) installed, and I look at new construction houses every week. The builders around here are simply are not installing them.
There is a better way to build it
Hindsight is always 20/20, and now that the problems with manufactured stone are coming to the surface, we’re getting smarter about it from an engineering standpoint (but in the field it’s still screwed up). If you actually read the whole MVMA install guide (you did read it, right?) you’ll see at the end of the document there are alternative methods to building the ACMV wall system. These include a drainage mat or furring strips mounted to the sheathing of the wall. In doing so you’ll essentially create an air gap between the house and the concrete veneer. Sound familiar? Just like our age old friend, Mr. Brick Veneer, that air gap will allow for moisture control and drainage to occur, without the risk of the moisture soaking into the wood structure of the home. Is anyone doing this you ask? Not here in Louisville, but I hope they start soon. It’s likely going to take a couple of really big lawsuits to get this ball rolling. The process does require more planning, work, and careful execution to pull off and and make work.
What to look for on your house
In future posts, I’ll break down the most commonly found incorrect areas, and give you details on how they should have been installed. I’ll be sure to update this post as well, as I gather new info and images from the field. If you have this material on your home and have questions feel free to contact me. If you are in the Louisville, KY area, more than likely your home’s veneer was poorly installed. I hate to say it, but I’ve never inspected a house that had a proper install of manufactured stone. There are ways we can take minimally invasive moisture readings from the inside of the home to get a better idea of what type of damage may be occurring on your home. If you’d like more info on this, just give me a call and we can talk about it.
PART 2: ACMV- TROUBLE AREAS AROUND WINDOWS & DOORS
In part two I talk about what should happen when you introduce doors and windows to your faux stone installation.
PART 3: ACMV- WALL DETAILS AND DRAINAGE
In part three I show you how the details around the walls should be handled, and how to make sure the water doesn’t build up behind the stone veneer.
The ACMV diagrams from this series were all taken from the MVMA guide. I will sometimes remove extra details or color certain sections to make them a bit easier to understand. If you want to look at the originals, download the full MVMA manual.
They are the things nightmares are made of. Some folks freeze in fear at the sight of one. They can make you produce blood curdling screams and throw shoes at a wall. Spiders. Eight Legged Freaks. Demons from Hell. Call them what you will, but most spiders are harmless to you and your family. But some are not….
The Brown Recluse, aka “The Fiddler,”which sounds more like a villain from Batman than a spider in your home, is one of the top venomous spiders in the United States. Loxosceles reclusa (if you want to geek out on the name) is found in the central Midwest. From Nebraska to Kentucky, from Iowa to Texas, and everywhere in between.
Perhaps I am more aware of these guys than other people, but I find dozens of homes every year with Brown Recluses during home inspections. A few of these have been serious infestations…I’m talking hundreds of them found by me in one home, and I’m not really looking that hard for spiders.
How to identify a Brown Recluse Spider
The Brown Recluse is small. It is usually no bigger than a quarter, including the legs. The legs are long and skinny, and most times I have found them, they are sticking straight out. But as their nickname implies, the simplest way to identify them is to look for the marking on the cephalothorax (fancy name for their back). The “fiddle” or “violin” is easy to spot. There are several other species that get mistaken for the Brown Recluse quite often. That is why most experts look for this marking.
Where are they hiding?
As the name implies these guys are usually in dark places. They build irregular webs that frequently include a shelter consisting of random threads. They often build their webs in woodpiles and sheds, closets, garages, attics, basements and crawlspaces. During home inspections, I see them in the top of closets near the ceiling quite often, in basements around the rim joist, and attics. They are more common than most people think. In fact, one of the largest infestation ever recorded was in Kansas 2001. Over 2,000 brown recluse spiders were removed from a home where the people lived for years. Not one bite occurred in that house.
What to do if you find them?
Call a pest control company. This is one of those times you don’t want to get all DIY. Most pro’s will want to set sticky traps in the areas the spiders are most active. Give it a few days and then check the traps. This can help gauge how bad a problem you have. Then you can develop a play of attack on the hell spawns. You can also break out the biological warfare if needed.
I’m a bit later than I wanted to be getting this written, but hey, better late than never. If you missed the first part of this post you can see it here: Best of Home Inspections 2014. So without further ado, the second half of the Best of the Worst pictures of 2014.
A waterfall in the crawlspace – This house was about 15 years old. This was the 3rd person selling it. What you are looking at is the master shower that was NEVER connected to the home’s plumbing. It has been dumping shower water under the house since the day it was built. How many other inspectors missed this little gem because it was in a tight spot that took a bit of extra effort to get to? And do you know what I had to craw through to see it? Go on…tell me you’ve never peed in the shower.
NEW Insulation in the Attic – That is what the listing boasted. In fact, the buyer even commented to me on how this flipper (not the dolphin) did everything just right. I may be a bit cynical, but I have never seen a flipped house “done right.” When I climbed through the tiny hole in the ceiling to get into the attic I saw this pile of batt insulation (the worst possible choice for attic insulation, mind you). Well…in the sellers defense, there was new insulation in the attic, it just hasn’t been installed yet.
Leaning Crawlspace Tower of Pisa – Truth be told, I could make one of these post every week with the crap I find in crawlspaces alone. This beauty was in an old house, circa 1900. There were probably a dozen or so of these wonderfully crafted modern marvels scattered throughout. What do you say other than “Um…no.”
Air filters are important – Who doesn’t like clean, fresh air? The people who owned this house, that’s who. This was a 10yr old gas furnace that I don’t think has ever had a filter installed it. I was getting very little air flow out of it and when I took the unit apart I found this fan so clogged with crud it could barely draw the air through it.
Casting a shadow – It doesn’t hurt to turn off your ceiling fans every few years and wipe them down. The dust on the edge of this fan blade was nearly 3/4 inch thick. So fellas, the next time you start to catch heat about not pulling your weight in the house cleaning department, just show the them this pic and point out how it could always be worse.
My last and final picture is not of a house, but of a fortune cookie message I received a few weeks ago. It only took 30 years to get one that actually made sense.
I’ve got enough pictures to write a novel of funny, awful, and scary things I’ve found during my home inspections, and I’ve already started compiling my list for next time. I had record numbers in 2014 because of you and the trust you put in me. I love what I do, and I love helping people. Thank you for choosing ABI.
Another year older, one or two more gray hairs found, and a stack of pictures to choose from. It’s hard to whittle it down to just a handful, but I selected the top 10 problems found during home inspections this year.
A Cold Fireplace – This is a picture from a one year old home. The owners paid extra to have a vented gas fireplace insert installed. What they didn’t realize is they would be paying extra on their heat bill forever because of it. You can see through the eye of my thermal imaging camera that the lower section of the insert was not insulated or air sealed. It’s constantly letting cold in air. The room temp was 68, the outside air was 17. This is why thermal imaging home inspections are awesome. It put visual reasoning to a problem you can feel. This problem is fixable, but it would requiring removing the mantle and fireplace to air seal/insulate the back wall.
Structural Window – Ok, there is no such thing, but this window in this custom garage is acting as one. The owners of this two month old custom built garage called me when they started to have trouble with water leaking in. I came out to find what the water problem was. I did, and found this beauty as well. Whenever we have masonry spanning the top of a window or door or opening, there should be a piece of steel installed above the window, called a lintel. This L shaped support is what holds everything up in the air. These concrete blocks are resting on the window frame only. No steel. Only water leakage.
Flooded Crawlspace – There is not much I won’t do for my clients. I have been bitten and stung. I have crawled through dead animals, piles of poop, puddles of pee, and everything you can imagine to get the low down on a house. But I drew the line with this crawlspace. I took one look in there with the exposed and flooded electrical lines and “noped it.” The buyer just laughed and said “I don’t blame you.”
Rotting Creatures – In keeping with the creepy, nasty crawlspace theme; one day I turned the corner and stumbled across this guy. I think it used to be a possum at one time. It may not seem too bad now, but imagine yourself in a dark, wet crawlspace. You’re crawling on your belly, turn the corner and find this dude 6 inches from your face. It’s a bit startling. Oh, and wet, decomposing hair smelled great!
See Through Drain – Ever wondered what your bathroom sink drain looks like? Yeah, me neither. But if by some chance you do….wonder no more. This thing is flat out gross. It was almost like a lava lamp for hair and dead skin cells.
So there is the first five. It’s tough picking a top ten with thousands of pictures to choose from for sure, but you can see part two here- ABI Home Inspection – Best of 2014 Part 2
I got a phone call this week from a listing agent about a home I inspected a few days prior. Now, getting phone calls from Realtors that have questions about a particular item on a home inspection report is nothing out of the ordinary. But this call was different. This guy was angry. He was angry that the buyer had decided to not purchase the house based on my findings during the home inspection. Again, this is nothing out of the norm; it happens. It was the way this particular Realtor came at me that made the conversation memorable.
The Bat-Phone Rings.
Me: ABI, this is Ben speaking.
Realtor: Yes, this is David (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent) with [some national company]. You inspected one of my listings a few days ago and I had a few questions.
Me: Sure David, fire away.
Realtor: I’m not sure who you thing you are, but you caused this deal to fall through, and this report you gave out is one of the most inflammatory things I have ever seen in 30 years in real estate.
Me: Um….OK. How so?
Realtor: You scared this poor young buyer to death.
Me: Oh, yeah? He didn’t seem frightened the last time I spoke with him. In fact, he seemed to be thankful that he had more info than before.
Realtor: Three days ago everything was fine, and then you showed up and everything fell apart. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Me: Ashamed? Not in the least. I did my job to the best of my ability. If in doing so, your deal fell apart; sorry, it happens.
Realtor: Well I will make sure no one in my office ever recommends you or anyone from your company.
Me: That’s too bad. It sounds like you guys could use a real home inspector instead of the flunkies you’re currently recommending.
Realtor: My home inspector doesn’t cause problems like you. He makes sure things go smoothly.
Me: Of that I have no doubt.
This is not the first time I have gotten a call like this. It typically happens once a year or so. But it struck a nerve this time around and I felt the need to vent a bit. Why should I “be ashamed of myself?”
Slammed for doing a good job.
Most of the time my job revolves around the negative side of things. People pay me to look at a house and tell them what is wrong with it. I’m pretty good at doing this. But all negativity does bring you down after awhile. Take this guy for example. He thinks I am the scum of the earth. He thinks I single-handedly caused his sale to fall through. But why does he believe this? I didn’t build the house. I didn’t neglect it for years. I didn’t try and cover up all the damage with a quick once over. All I did was point out the issues; I didn’t create them.
Yet to him, I am the villain.
And that is OK.
Because I don’t work for him. It’s not my job to make sure he gets his commission. It’s not my job to make sure he meets his quota. It’s my job to make sure that my client is as informed as he can be in order to make the best decision he can for himself and his family.
I have a very thick skin, and I don’t let much of anything get to me. So I’ll wear this badge with pride. I’ll continue to fight the good fight. I will not sell my morals. I will not turn a blind eye to anything to facilitate the transaction. I will not go gentle into that good night….too much? Yeah, too much.
So your real estate agent just called and said you have an accepted offer on that new house. Congratulations! And oh, by the way, you have 7 days to get an inspection. Better get on the horn pronto and find a home inspector.
This is an all too familiar scenario for lots of folks. But do you just blindly pick a inspector and hire the first guy you can to come out to the house? Not unless you like burning money.
1. An inspector is an inspector, right? Not even close. The difference in knowledge between home inspectors is staggering. Don’t even think about hiring someone who hasn’t been inspecting for years. The schools that “teach” home inspectors are mostly a joke, and they send new guys out with just enough information to be dangerous. They teach to the test to keep their success rates up. The real knowledge for home inspectors comes from experiences in construction trades and actually inspecting houses. An inspector will start to know what he’s doing around the time he hits house #500. The last thing you want is to be one of the houses he is learning on.
2. Stay away from the cheap guy.
At first it will seem like a good idea to call around , find the guy who gives you the cheapest price, and hire that inspector. That’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s a really bad one, for a couple of reasons. 1. Typically, the cheap guy is the new guy (see reason #1 on why you don’t want him) or 2. Most cheap inspectors are volume inspectors. They charge less, but do as many as 3-4-even 5 houses in a day. How much time and care do you really think they’ll be spending on your new home when the clock is ticking to get to the next job?
3. Avoid the Minimalist.
Some inspectors like to do just the basics. They keep to the letter of the law, and do as little as possible for you. No roof walking, getting in attics, or crawlspace crawling. These bare minimum guys are the kind of inspectors who really do you no good at all.
4. Be cautious of who your Realtor recommends. Better yet, find your own inspector.
Most folks are hardworking and honest people (at least I want to believe that). You hope that your Realtor has your best interests in mind. But remember that at the end of the day, your home purchase is a huge investment for you…and a payday for your Realtor.
Be cautious about taking a blind recommendation on an inspector from your Realtor. Do your own research.
As an inspector, I am rarely recommended by Realtors. Why? I am often told by agents that my reports are too picky, too “lethal”, or that I’m nothing more than a “deal-killer” (yes, that is a real term used throughout the business). But when that Realtor is buying her own house, or is helping a family member do so, I magically get the call.
The point being that if you were buying a used car, would you take it to the salesman’s mechanic to look it over for you? Of course not. There is usually an inherent conflict of interest when it comes to agents who recommend a particular inspector.
5. You should be asking questions about more than just the cost of the inspection.
There are lots of questions you can ask to weed out the bad eggs when it comes to inspectors. Ask things such as, “How long will the inspection take?” “How many houses do you inspect a day?” “Will you crawl through the attic?” “How about walking on the roof?” “Do you actually go into the crawlspace?”
I get 15 calls a week where the first thing that comes from the caller’s mouth is “How much?” That is the wrong question to ask. What you really want to know is how knowledgeable and intelligent this person is, not how cheap. Don’t fall into the price trap. The truth is, the difference in price between the best and worst inspectors is comparable to the cost of a dinner out.
You are about to purchase a $200,000 house. Where would you rather spend that $50 bucks?
There is a direct correlation between what an inspector will do and what he charges. I’ve looked at hundreds of homes that would have cost the buyers tens of thousands of dollars had they not hired me to actually crawl around and get dirty for them. The big problems are almost always hidden, and your inspector must be willing to go where the others won’t in order to find them.
Last week, I was at a home inspection for a client on a house that was 4 years old. The seller of the house had the home built new, by a custom builder. What tons of folks seem to not understand, or just don’t know, is that a home builder is only as good as his sub-contractors. A builder, typically, is no more than a middle man who schedules the different tradespeople like carpenters, plumbers, and electricians to show up when they need to, do their job, and move on to the next house. If a builder, possibly your builder, doesn’t choose the best people to do their jobs, but instead chooses the cheapest person they can find (so they pad their own bottom line) you pay for it. There is nothing more true than: pay me now, or pay me later.
Back to last week. My inspection of this home was actually going quite well. Until I went to the backyard. The two-story vinyl siding house had a good sized deck off the second story, like many, many other homes I’ve inspected. And like all the others, the deck was a disaster. I say all, because I’ve inspected 87 homes with second story decks this year and not a single one was 100% built correctly. Not one. Nope, not a single solitary one. Now, I don’t have the time to post, nor do you care to read about each one. But this deck, on this day, stands out. Simply because of its’ age. 4 yrs old.
The ledger board (the main board that is bolted to the house) was not properly flashed. Not being flashed properly will cause water to get in behind the siding and cause severe moisture damage to the deck, wall, sheathing, structure, etc… it wreaks havoc. The worst part about this situation is this: the home is 4yrs old, one owner, and that owner is flat out screwed. Typically, you get a one year warranty with a new home, and once that time has elapsed, it’s your baby. The deck in question was not done correctly from day one. No two ways about it. But when it’s brought to your attention 3 years too late, there is not much that can be done about it except fix it. On your dime. If you want to sell that house, that is.
It’s pretty simply really. Since the problem (at least one of them) was the very first thing the deck builders did wrong, you start over. Yup, thats right, you tear it down. Remove the siding and cross your fingers and toes that the crap work on the deck was caught early enough that there is not massive moisture damage to the house. Luckily, there wasn’t on this house. The seller got out cheap, all things considered… it only cost him $8,500 to tear down the old deck, repair the flashing/siding job, and rebuild the exact same size deck back on the house.
This was $8,500 he didn’t have to spend. If he would have had a home inspection done before closing on the home when it was new, depending on his inspector, there’s a good chance it would have been caught and the builder would have made his sub-contractors fix it. The important thing is, the money to repair the deck doesn’t have to come out of his pocket. Some folks will tell you that having an inspection done on a newly constructed home is a waste of money. Tell that to the man who just cut a check for more than 2000% of the cost of the home inspection. Yes, that number is correct. 2000%. There is a big difference between a code inspector and a home inspector. Learn the facts. A building code is nothing more than the minimum requirements to remain legal. It’s mind boggling really. Nobody accepts the minimum of anything, but the minimum of construction standards is considered fine by some people. Don’t settle for less.
You guys will LOVE this. My first home inspection of the day was an older home, built around 1932. From the outside, the house looks to be in decent shape. A quick walk around it showed only minor problems. I do my thing outside, and head indoors. Nothing too shocking here either. I head upstairs and start in the bathroom. I noticed the shower curtain pulled closed…..hmm. Why would a vacant home have the shower curtain pulled closed?
After checking the electrical outlets (which had problems of their own) I shifted my attention to the toilet. Floor wasn’t soft. Good. Flushed OK, check. No leaks. Toilet seems sound. It must be looked at closely. A leak can cause serious damage to the sub-floor, the floor joists, and the ceiling below. You don’t want that.
I slide the cutain open (which I believe was closed to try and “hide” something from me–sorry. I’m perceptive.) I could hardly contain myself.
For what do my eyes behold… Oh just a HVAC vent CUT out of the tiled wall surround in the shower. Yes, you read that correctly. It appears that when someone decided to tile the shower walls, they thought it was good idea to install an air vent IN the shower. Nice.
Now please understand that it’s not a good idea to do this. It’s not like the vent was in the ceiling.
Heck, it would kinda, sorta, maybe, but not really be OK for the vent to be in the shower wall… but up high.
This vent was about 16 inches from the top of the tub…in the ONLY bathroom in the house. So you can figure at least twice a day, it was used.
Let’s break down the facts. The average home uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute @ 80 psi. I’d say the average shower is around 15 minutes. So that leaves you with a shower of 37.50 gallons used. We all know that ALL that water is not going in the vent, but lets say that 10% of that water is. That’s 3.75 gallons of water per shower. Holy Smokes!
If you agree with the fact that the shower on average gets used twice a day (which is probably a low figure) that’s almost 8 gallons a day! In the vent!
That comes to 2,920 gallons a year! Or 584 five gallon buckets!
All that water is pouring back into the furnace, wreaking havoc.
The moral of the story is this. People do strange, stupid things to their homes. Most of the time they are not as evident as this, but just as severe. If you are buying a home, get a home inspection. Find a good home inspector; don’t take the cheapest bid, as this guy will NOT help you.